Fed up of fads and fast fashion, Carolina Crespo and Iris Alonzo are making everyone contribute to their brand-new fashion brand EVERYBODY. Everyone that is except for fashion designers themselves. A direct to consumer platform, EVERYBODY eliminates designers and instead collaborates with people from all walks of life to create pieces rather than focusing on a seasonal collection.
Having both over a decade of experience at that little well-known label American Apparel, Iris acting as creative director and Carolina as head of graphics and kids wear, with EVERYBODY they “take the sweatshop free ethics of American Apparel and bring in ecology as an equally important part in the whole equation.”
Launched in November 2016, the non-designer designers have so far included artists, architects, writers, photographers and even a 74-year-old master chess player Prakash, who has been playing in the park across from Iris’s apartment in Los Angeles for almost ten years. From an eight-foot long multi-coloured snake pillow created by Jean Pigozzi to a super practical flight suit, everything is 100% ethical, eco-friendly and made in America. With no one designer to dictate what’s in or what’s out, the girls instead leave only two golden rules to their collaborators, “It should be either something that is purely functional or purely joyful, the in-between does not interest us”. With nothing to waste and everything to create, Iris and Carolina are at the forefront of carving out the latest and most encompassing fashion community that everybody needs to become aware of.
Semaine: Tell us how EVERYBODY began?
Iris: We were both at American Apparel for a long time. Carolina was there for 15 years and I was there for 11 years. When it all ended for me in 2015, Carolina was still there for a little while but I started thinking about what the next thing was going to be. I knew that manufacturing would be a part of it. Probably the most exciting part about working at American Apparel was working in this incredible factory. So, I started thinking about ideas about how we could keep working with these great local manufacturers.
Semaine: When you say local, do you mean local to LA or in America?
Iris: LA. We also have a few people we know who we have met over the past years who have speciality factories like jewellery on the east coast and then there’s a lot of people who do blankets and sweaters on the east coast too. But it is 95% LA. LA is incredible for manufacturing. In two blocks in South Central you can have a new fabric knit and then you can take it to a place for the cutting then have it sewn, dyed, tie dyed, printed…it is incredible in that way. I have always been a creative director and I have designed some things but it was not my thing to be a designer so I started thinking if I can ask friends to come up with ideas then I can make the things and sell them. It seemed like a big undertaking and then right around that time Carolina called me and told me she was done with American Apparel and asked me what I was up to. I told her I was thinking about some new ideas so she came by and we hashed it out and decided to start putting one foot in front of the other, seeing who we wanted to work with from a manufacturing point of view and who from an idea point of view. The first thing we did was go to the people that we knew but then we decided to make this rule that they cannot be clothing designers they must be people that have regular jobs or even don’t have a job, they just can’t be trained clothing designers. That’s how the idea was formed.
Semaine: What was the first collaboration?
Iris: At first, we asked about ten people at once because we wanted to have a little group of people who were on board so that we could give examples to the others we were talking to. The first collaboration was Jean Pigozzi, who is a good friend of mine and Carolina also knows him. He created the eight-foot body pillow, totally impractical but really cool. At the same time, we asked this couple that we are friends with, Mae Elvis Kaufman and Kalen Hollomon, who are both artists. They are great as artists, amazing as people and they have fantastic style so we approached them.
Carolina: We asked Margot too to get involved.
Iris: Yeah, Margot Jacobs, one of my best friends and a close friend of Carolina’s who when we were at American Apparel would always say I wish they made something like this or like that. She has a very specific job as a landscape architect so she needs things that can crossover from office to being in a park. Then we asked our friend Ed Brachfeld who is a producer. So, they are the collaborations and then we wanted to do the basics.
Semaine: And what was the ethos at the heart of these collaborations?
We thought we would do these collaborations and they would be a “collection” and I use that word very loosely. These will be the things that are more specific and have a story. They will be the items that this person thinks are missing in the world. We also wanted to have year-round basics, which was something we could design ourselves. We didn’t want to do the same old thing. We wanted to take the sweatshop free ethics that we had done at American Apparel and bring in ecology as an equally important part in the whole equation. Then we went down this path of focusing on recycled textiles and recycled yarns. Organic is good, but it is also an elite sort of thing as there is very little of it that exists and the price is super high. It is hard to dip into the market so we wanted to shine the light on something else that could be potentially interesting. We went down the recycling path and found that there is a ton of recycled yarn that we knew about and had experimented with at American Apparel but there was no one who was making 100% recycled yarn. Everyone we talked to in the industry said that it couldn’t be done and that’s when we got determined and obsessed with figuring it out and we did it. It took us 6 months of back and forth, going to cotton factories in the south, but we found a way to capture and recycle the waste from the yarn making process. We came up with our silhouette and called it the “trash tee” which is now our main product that we sell all year-round besides from the collection items.
Semaine: In terms of having a community of these non-designer designers, you even take it one step further and share your proceeds with the community…
Iris: Yeah that seems only fair. We give 10% not of the proceeds but of the sales. If we sell something for $100 and say it costs us only $30 to make we will still give them $10. We just felt this was cleaner, easier and more fair and generous. It would make more sense to someone who is not in the apparel industry. We decided to do it that way which is kind of an experiment but so far so good. It is exciting, like with Prakash who made the button-down shirt, he doesn’t have a job, he’s in his 70’s and he is a chess player. I saw him in the park the other day, when we had just sent this email out about his shirts, I told him that we sold ten shirts and I could see he was trying to do the maths. This means he gets about $100, which is nice for him to know he has $100 coming his way. Imagine if we sell 100 shirts. That could be extremely meaningful for Prakash or anybody that’s involved. It’s this idea that if we do this and people start to know about it and we keep growing that it could turn into a little micro economy. We are really curious to see how this pans out.
Semaine: It’s the way it should be, especially in the current climate we are living in…
Iris: Yeah absolutely. Especially the way things are going, I don’t think I know anybody anymore who has one job where the income comes from one big company. Everyone does freelance here and there. Everyone is putting together their pie in a different way and it is fun to be able to be a part of that. With the t-shirts being wholesale, that plays into this whole self-starting economy, as well where everyone has the tools to set up a website and put something online and if you get the word out to enough people you can make a real business out of it. We just started doing wholesale with our t-shirts which allows us to be a part of that economy even more outside of the contributors. We wholesale internationally and we do our own printing and packaging too.
Semaine: Is there a set number of products you intend to produce each year?
Iris: We take things very organically, as they are ready and as it comes together we do it. Of course, we are working with a serious PR company and they keep telling us we need a calendar! We are more when it’s ready, it’s ready but we are trying to get a little more organised with the timeline but it feels like it ends up being about two pieces a month. On the production side, we set a threshold where it depends on how much it costs and how much to manufacture. The snake pillows are made on demand but we sometimes make a handful of something. If we go into a place where we get the fabric and they have the last piece of a beautiful fabric, we will usually just buy it and have that one ready to ship. When it is more of a basic like Margot and Ed’s sweatshirt, we went ahead and made a few hundred of those because we know that people love them and it won’t be a hard sell. We decided to commit to each product for 12 months to stop it from being made and then sold out and gone for good. Knowing the cycle of retail, if you don’t give it enough love then you don’t give it enough chance. We are going to so much effort to make these things and we are putting them on the planet so we want to give it a good chance for it to get out there and for enough people to find it. We learnt this at American Apparel that sometimes there is just something that is such a basic that it can become a classic. Like Margot and her flight-suit, why would it be out of style next year, it won’t be so if people still like it and want to buy it then maybe we will switch up the colours or adjust the fit so it will carry on for as long as it makes sense. Some things can therefore become more semi-permanent where people can come back for hopefully years if it is something that they like
Semaine: How much freedom do you give your non-designer designers?
Iris: What we start with is by saying that this is what we know how to make, which usually inspires people to say, “Oh ok you can make leather bags, I am a mum and a need a chic diaper bag which isn’t covered in baby bottles” or something like that. When we tell people what we know how to make that kind of sets them off anyway. The other rule is that it should be either something that is purely functional or purely joyful and the stuff that is in between we will leave to all the other companies that are out there. This isn’t a fashion brand where we are trying to put out seasonal collections or things that feel right for the moment, it should be more like I need this but I haven’t been able to find this or I had this and I’ve worn it since I was 19 years-old and its completely disintegrated but no one makes anything like it anymore. It’s those kinds of things or it is like the eight-foot snake pillow, which nobody needs but if you have it or you can drop the money on it, it is one of the most enjoyable things in your life. We are trying to stick to this, purely functional or purely joyful and sometimes it can even be both. The in between is not interesting to us.
Semaine: Do you have plans to open up the design to EVERYBODY’s community?
Iris: Once we set the tone and when more people know about us and we have a bigger customer base, we think it would be fun to say to the community that we want to add to the collection and see who has some ideas. Maybe there is a dancer out there who has some feedback about something functional but also elegant. The idea is that we will look at the grouping of products that we have and see what factories can make amazing things for us. Maybe one out of ten pieces would be designed by the customer or the community, or even someone who approaches us. We are excited about that day coming.
Semaine: Tell us about your pop-up you recently launched in New York?
Iris: Informal shop is what we called our pop-up shop in New York. Essentially it was a pop-up shop but the idea that made the difference from the typical pop-up shop was that we were inspired by the informal commerce that is happening in Mexico and all over Latin America. Informal commerce is where it’s at. If you know how to make something and you want to make money, you make it and you use any means you have at your disposal to sell it. That could be the trunk of your car or on the sidewalk. It’s about not being so marketing and corporate and not having to make everything so perfect. Why can’t everything be more like a Tupperware party or why can’t it be more informal, spontaneous and experimental? If you do that enough times and in enough different places maybe that even becomes a wheel in the business model too. The pop-up in New York was for four days but we’ve done some other things too. We once packed up some suitcases and went to a friend’s dinner party and during dessert and coffee we opened the suit cases and it became this trying on party. We made a couple thousand dollars and that was great! Why can’t that be part of a business model by keeping it what it is which is inspired, spontaneous and casual. Then you can talk to people too, Carolina is the grand master of walking people through the collection and telling all the stories. It is fun to interact with people and tell them why yes this is a shirt but there is soul behind it. We explain why we went through so much trouble making it and share the story of the person who came up with the idea.
Carolina: Everything we create has a very special detail to it whether it’s how many buttons we put on or the size or the colour, everything has a story so I get to explain all those details to somebody. Everything is thought through.
Semaine: How do you feel that your time spent together at American Apparel influenced and shaped your approach to EVERYBODY?
Iris: In the sense that we know manufacturing so it has become this thing that we are extremely sensitive to frivolities in manufacturing. If they want to add an extra seam but the seam doesn’t do anything for the function of the garment we know that means that someone has an extra step in cutting and sewing. It is understanding the humanity behind it and how much work goes into each detail in a garment. I think had we not worked at American Apparel we may not have understood how important the efficiency is and especially when you are paying people a living wage. Right now, the minimum wage in factories in California for workers is $12.50 but a lot of the factories are paying $15 because it is competitive and it is going to keep going up because the minimum wage is going to continue to go up. You just want to be conscious of the details whereas if we were designing things and sending them out to Bangladesh or wherever labour is literally $0.20 an hour it’s like you can order as many things as you want but you are screwing people over and it doesn’t matter. It does matter though, sewing doesn’t get easier just because it is in Bangladesh, it just gets cheaper. From American Apparel, we understand the labour that goes into it and each person behind a sewing machine. There were about 5,000 garment makers at American Apparel so you come to understand how making one t-shirt can go through 15 different people. From the cutters, to the knitters, to the dyers, you think about how each one of those people has a home and a family. Their lives are just as important as your life, and the depth of that whole world is so overlooked. We are all human and there is no difference between any of us. I think that has been a profound impact on both of us. It would be completely out of the question for us to do anything from a manufacturing stand point that exploits the people that make the clothes, it is just not possible.
Semaine: We won’t look at that extra seam the same way again…
Iris: Yeah, it is unnecessary labour and therefore it has clashed with fast fashion brands. Topshop wants to stand out from H&M and Zara wants to look different from Forever 21 so they add these bells and whistles to stand out which means they should work even harder to support more people. Bangladesh isn’t even cheap enough, now they are going to tribes deep in Africa, who don’t know about human exploitation yet and they are training them to sew. It is so absurd. That’s a whole other conversation! It is the same with the ecological stuff. Of course, we thought about it at American Apparel and just inherently making things in California is better because the environment protection agency standards are so strict here. It’s like comparing apples and oranges making the same t-shirt in LA over making it somewhere in China. We have so many environmental standards that are very strict so it is going to inherently be more sustainable but there are further steps to take if you want to take them.
Semaine: And if you were each to design your own EVERYBODY product, what would it be?
Carolina: I am working on some jeans. I’ve got a big booty and I sometimes always have trouble finding the perfect pair. Either they aren’t fitting right or they are too low rise and just not right so I am developing a pair of jeans for big booty girls. So, that’s mine! I think for me too, it’s shoes, it’s not easy to find a good, simple and classic pair of shoes. We have some interesting shoemaker factories close by. It’s fun because there are so many ideas that we see as we go into the factories all the time. I want to make everything. It is like opening Pandora’s box but we should remember to think it’s not what we want it’s what we need. I think it’s healthy to have some constraints especially within creative endeavours.
By Joanna Reid for Semaine.
Photography by Andres Burgo